The YouTube sleeper

I think a “sleeper” is a movie that no one thinks is going to do that well, and then it takes over the box office.

My YouTube videos are like that, if you chop off the “takes over” part. My videos are like David and Goliath, but David loses.

Any case, I think people are interested in how videos gain popularity on YouTube, so let me throw in what I know, from the perspective of running a very over-looked channel.

I made a movie called: Ariana Grande singing about climate change.

I think it’s quite nice, you know … I think I used some good and steady animation techniques in it overall. It’s clear and to the point.

Well, I posted it in November 2017, and for almost its entire life, it had 87 views. It got those views early on, I honestly don’t know how. And then it just stayed at 87 views.

Then some time, last April or May, it all of a sudden shot up (yes, for me, this counts as shooting up) to 95, and then 99, and then past 100. I was really surprised. I didn’t do anything at all to bring this feat about. I don’t know if someone found the video, randomly, and then shared it on Facebook or something. Or if it all of a sudden became a “suggested video” on the side column of another YouTube video.

Well, when I saw it on the move like that, I thought, wow! A video of mine is going to ‘make it’! I kept checking every day to see if the view count was increasing (things were very slow at work) and it was increasing, so I thought: my video (and I) are invincible now! I thought people must be sharing it excitedly across all their platforms! Pretty soon, it approached 187 views!

Not so fast. The view count was still going up, but by less and less. I finally decided to get to the bottom of things and checked the official YouTube stats. Compared to the leaps and bounds I’d thought the video was increasing by, the reality was much more tame. Yeah, it had increased by 100 views, but there wasn’t really a big burst anywhere. By the stats, it went up by about 15 views suddenly in one day, and that was how it started; then maybe 10 the next; then bounced around with 3-4 extra views a day for the next few weeks, till that dwindled to 1-2 views a day. My invincibility wasn’t so invincible after all. I realized that there was actually no infinite momentum; the 15+ views must have been a fluke, and now I was going to have to settle for 1-2 views until it dropped back to zero.

These days it’s kind of like stop-and-go traffic. The view count doesn’t move at all some days. Some days it gets 4 views. It’s at 301 today. Which is pretty extraordinary for me. Everything else grows by 10 views in an entire year. This is the first of my animations to grow by over 200 views within the space of about 4 months. No idea where it will go from here.

 

Bad audio, all the time

I usually use my trusty laptop to record kids’ voices for animations. It usually works out really well, and picks up the kids’ voices even when they’re speaking softly.

But I ran into a problem this time around at the summer camp. There was a super annoying buzzing sound in the hall where I started animating. It came from the light fixture. I had already recorded the voices of about 5 kids before I noticed it. We migrated then into the empty room next door, but the buzzing followed us, and I didn’t exactly want to close the door, because it’s not a super good idea for an adult to be alone with the child. So I kept the door cracked.

I didn’t finish recording all the kids that day, and when I went back later, I had an action plan: I decided to record the leftover kids outside. It was nice and quiet out there! I went home and listened to all the recordings, and the outdoors recordings definitely won the day.

So, when it came time to do the recordings for the second film, I strolled outside with each kid, out the front door of the church where the summer camp is held, off to the side a bit where there’s a nice slab of pavement to sit on past which our feet dangled into bright green grass, and warm summer sun all around us. And I felt very fresh and pleased that I was both getting the project done, and getting some outside time.

Sadly, though, it did not turn out for the best. The mosquitoes must have been out in full force that day, just to spite me, I suppose. I heard them buzzing about but I thought — the other day, we recorded outside and it sounded just fine. Surely it’s not possible for mosquitoes to vary how loud they’re being from day to day? Well, apparently it is possible. I found that out later. I had, in good, responsible time, done the necessary animation edits to stitch the kids’ work together. I had it all completed so that there wasn’t a crunch and flurry of work necessary the day before the family viewing party. Instead, though, I had left all the audio wrestling for the last day. I had been at a workshop a few weeks ago where they told us: Guess what! If your audio has a weird buzzing noise, it’s easy to fix it! Just load it into this program [one of the Adobe Creative Suites] and you click the button that says ‘reduce buzz’ or ‘reduce background’ or something like that.

Well. First of all, it is not that simple, between having to load the files, and do some extra clicking about. And second, and saddest, it didn’t really do a good job 😦 I could still hear that stupid buzz from the light fixture, and the mosquitoes. And in fact, the mosquitoes were the hardest to overcome, I guess because the stupid light fixture buzz was a steady and narrow sound, while the mosquitoes blared their song up and down the octaves and blazed forth and dove down. Any case, so the sound is not that good in these two movies, even though it took me forever to try to fix them. And in fact after the family viewing party, and before uploading to YouTube, I spent like a day trying to further fix up the audio. I uploaded and then removed, and then re-uploaded the movies like three times, adjusting the sound each time. And before that, I had rendered the movies about 5 times already, adjusting the sound and volume in between.

I was pretty sad to think that I had the animated parts mostly ready to go, and here was the audio to trip me up.

And here are the movies: “A bird story” is the one where the weird buzzing was in the background. “A lesson on nurdles” was the one which was recorded a lot outside.

Animations of geology

In the last few weeks, I made one of the coolest things I ever made in Blender: these planetary marbles rolling towards each other while swirling inside:

And before that, I made a volcano and a glacier.

I hope I’ll be able to use these in something creative.

Making people in Blender 3D

My first attempts at making people in Blender looked like this: a came up with a baby with a detachable head.

dearfor.png1319

She lost one of her cheeks, and she had no hands and non-moving arms. However, she’s still pretty cute, isn’t she?

Then I moved on to these teenagers:

Blender first peopleBlender first people

They’re pretty cute, too!

I then explored the world of stick figures:

Blender people stick figures

And finally, I tried making fully fleshed creatures. This is what I came up with:

Blender scary people

Some people think they look very scary. But you know what? Even though they don’t have fingers, they are still able to drink their hot tea.

I gave up on making people for a few years after that, but finally, I thought I’d try again and I came up with …

Blender people Agnes

Isn’t she absolutely lovely? I couldn’t believe my eyes when she was done. Her name is Agnes.

And the coolest part I’ve discovered, is that I just have to make a few tweaks to the face – nothing extreme at all – and I’ll come up with a whole new person. Like Eve coming from Adam’s rib, or however it goes.

So I tweaked Agnes’ cheeks, eyes, and hair just a bit, and I got Ebba:

Blender people thumbs up

A big give-away is the hair on the forehead – same pattern, though Ebba’s strands are longer. Ebba and Agnes are friends, here you see them standing together.

Here Agnes and Ebba look at a rose:

Blender people rose

Yes, they have fingers but no toes.

Then I made a girl with brown hair, a blue skirt, and a ribbon in her hair called Margaret. Margaret comes from Agnes. Her lips are fuller and nose is narrower, but they look quite a bit alike.

Blender people Madicken

And from her, I made a girl called Lisa. Notice the bangs and actually the whole hair style, down to the ribbon, is the same. Here Lisa is reading with a small girl called Elizabeth (the one in the polka-dot dress). I don’t actually remember who Elizabeth’s “parent” model was. It was probably Agnes, my original.

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And I made a lady called Deedra (in the blue hijab):

Blender people in the desert

Here you see Agnes, Elizabeth, Lisa, Ebba, and Deedra all standing together in “Ariana Grande singing about climate change.” No, none of them were meant to have demon eyes.

And here you see a progression of how one character “gives birth” into another:

Blender people progression

On the left, you see Snow-White. Well, Snow-White without black hair. I made her out of Margaret. Notice they have the same skin color, they have the exact same bangs. Snow-White’s mouth is a bit more pouty, maybe. And maybe her cheeks are fuller. Of course, the clothes are also different.

From Snow-White, I made the Hawaiian tree snail scientist who features in “The Desperate Tale of the Last Tree Snail.”  The fringe on the forehead is again a give-away. I changed the features quite a bit, but honestly, it’s not hard. You play just a tiny bit and get someone entirely new.

And finally, I took the tree snail scientist and made the mom that’s in “The grass is not trash.” I removed the bangs and maybe her eyes are a tad bigger.

I’m going to have a whole village soon enough!

blender people photo shoot

 

Of backwards heads and mixed-race couples: Animations with kids

I had two more interesting experiences with “The grass is not trash” worth mentioning …

First, did you notice that the brother has a white girlfriend? When we got to that page of the animation, I myself hadn’t really decided what the girlfriend should look like. So I told the Latina girl I was working, who was responsible for that page, to look at a whole menu of people that I have …

Blender animated people

Oh … never mind. I thought I showed her girls with a variety of skin colors. I, uh … I really think I did! Maybe I just can’t find the right file. But any case, the Latina girl picked the girl in the blue skirt and white ribbon for the girlfriend. The black girl sitting next to her agreed; and then I showed the pick to a group of boys sitting across from us, and they all thought she suited for the girlfriend role, as well.

So that’s how the brother’s girlfriend became white. The Latina girl did the animation with her, and she on purpose made the girlfriend taller than the boyfriend, which I thought was nice. Then, when I went home, I modified her features a little. Here’s the girlfriend in all her glory …

Blender animated people white girlfriendBlender animated people imperfect chin

I changed her hair to red; and I decided it would be healthy if all the characters did not have perfect straight and delicate features; so I gave her a protruding nose and a disappearing chin.

Okie dokie, so I had the girlfriend and a mixed-race couple in the animation. Turns out I also had a girl with her head screwed on backwards … the main character, no less.

This is “Louange”:

Blender animated people

At the beginning of “The grass is not trash”, her head is on right. Note the opening slit on her collar.

Well, right around the middle of the movie, things are looking a little different:

Blender animated people

Yes, in a surprising display of gymnastics and ballet, one of the kids twisted her head all the way around, and I didn’t notice until the last quarter of the film. Yes, her feet were therefore also pointing the wrong way all that time. Yikes.

It was too late to untwist her head, because I would have had to reverse the direction of all her hand and feet movements, everything. So instead, I just twisted her ankles to make her feet point the right way, and I hoped people wouldn’t notice the shirt collar. I felt really bad to be inflicting this kind of bodily pain on the lovely Louange, and I half expect to see her face writhing in torture.

Butterfly in blender

Just made a little butterfly in Blender:

monarch butterfly

It’s for the animated butterfly story I’m making with the second-graders at Irvin! I taught them animation basics today, which went stupendously. And tomorrow   we plan to start animating each kid’s individual page (every kid does their own animation.)

I made the butterfly based on this very nice tutorial. Now I just need to figure out how to make a caterpillar.

Animations with kids

Yesterday and today, I visited a classroom at a local school. It was really great. We haven’t started animating yet or anything, or even illustrating.

But we read our story (about butterflies) and talked about life cycles. One kid got carried away and after we talked about caterpillars morphing into butterflies, said something like, “and butterflies change back to caterpillars.” But then a little girl said “nooooooo!” and we got it all cleared up.

They know all the words they need to know: chrysalis, life cycle, etc, etc. They are really good readers, and I had them compare a butterfly and caterpillar, and one kid said, well, they don’t look at all the same, and another kid said, well, the middle part of the butterfly where the wings attach are kind of like the caterpillar. They compare, contrast, they do cause-and-effect. I think they’re great!

And we watched Mr. Turtle, twice, so the kids would know what kind of movie we want to make. They really loved it, so my heart goes out to those second-graders four years ago at Northside Elementary who made it. Wow, they are now in sixth grade!

I told my new second-graders: guess what! There’s actually an American state that has banned plastic bags (I only knew this because of where I spent the summer), and it’s the state with the most number of people, all the way out on the west coast. Any guesses which one? They guessed the United States, Mexico, Florida, New Jersey, Washington D.C., Alaska, Hawaii, and New York, and Texas, and finally we told them it was California. We pulled out a map and did a little geography lesson and showed them all the states they’d mentioned, and then they started saying: we should ban plastic bags in North Carolina, too!

Utter darlings!!

Then, I was explaining how the butterflies fly south in the winter to Mexico, and I don’t know why, but quite a few of the kids had the idea that it’s colder in Mexico than in the US. There was a big globe handy, and I told them about the equator and how the closer you are to the equator, the hotter it is. “So is there really a line around the middle of the earth?” No, there’s no real line, and no words floating around saying “equator”, either.

For some reason, we got on the subject of lava and how underwater volcanoes and ocean islands form. They were really interested in that, so I will keep it in mind for future book ideas.

I told them all to close their eyes as I read them the butterfly story, so that they could imagine what kinds of pictures to draw along with it. One kid spent the whole time telling another kid: you’re not closing your eyes! Close your eyes! You haven’t closed them!

Last but not least, I felt like I should step up to the plate, since my PhD was in satellite images, and show them images of our town of Concord back in 1985 and then in 2011. I got the images all from the huge repository hosted by Google Earth Engine and used the satellite called Landsat 5, which was launched way back in the 1980s! I think it was 1984. And it kept going until 2012. It captured almost three decades of images from all over the world. When you process satellite images, you have to pick out three “colors of light” to use, so I used #1, shortwave infrared, #2, near infrared, #3, blue. Using these three colors together is not 100% accurate as to how the earth looks, but it makes the green of the forests and the blue of the lakes pop.

As soon as I showed them the 2011 image, a kid said: I was born then!

(Gone are the days when I was startled that a kid born in 1999 is older than infancy).

Well, it was great luck that I’d chosen the year of their birth, it was totally by accident. Hearing the glad news, I said: Great! Now you can see what Concord looked like the year you were born! Immediately, a couple of kids started whispering insistently, no, no, I was born in 2010.

I told them: when I went to college, I spent the whole time studying satellite images. Suppose a desert is getting bigger year after year. With the satellite, you can watch that pattern and measure it. It’s really important to know what deserts and rivers are doing. One kid said: it would be very bad if a desert was getting bigger. I took advantage of the moment and told him: that does happen! There’s lots of places around the world where deserts are getting bigger, and it means people might not be able to grow as much food.

And that is maybe the closest we’ll get to discussing “climate change”, because apparently those words aren’t allowed in North Carolina schools, or something of the sort.

And finally I told them a couple of times that I hoped maybe they would all go to college, study about satellites, and then also help to protect the earth. Does it actually sink in when you tell kids things like this? Or do they forget everything when they start partying in the sixth grade?